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Urban Gladiator
Author: Anya Summers





The Spring Equinox



“Are you sure about this?”

My sister’s amber gaze was rimmed with unshed tears. Iris took after our father with her jet-black hair and his eyes, but the rest of her was the spitting image of our mother. I took after our paternal grandmother in face and form. I couldn’t falter over my decision, not when she would pay the price for my cowardice.

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” I assured her, squeezing her slim shoulders. Younger than me by two years, I had raised her after our parents died. The coming separation pained me. I didn’t want to leave her, but I had no other choice.


“It’s time.” I spied the gathering outside the front door of our little two-bedroom bright yellow cottage. It was the same home we’d lived in our entire lives. The one I had taken over guardianship of when our parents were killed by shifters.

When she opened her mouth to argue, I pulled her in for a tight hug. We’d been together our whole lives, and I didn’t know what I would do without her. I could only pray to the goddess that she would keep Iris safe in my absence. Fighting back tears, I said, “I love you. Always remember that. And don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay.”

“I love you too. Are you sure you don’t want me to come to the clearing with you?” She clung to me, holding me tight. Her body trembled with her sorrow because we both knew we wouldn’t see each other again.

“No. It’s best if you don’t.” Because if anything could make me falter, it would be my sister. With a ragged sigh, I released her. I gave her a smile I didn’t feel, and then, without a backward glance at the home I was leaving forever, I strode outside to join the group that would accompany me. Likely to ensure I didn’t run away and search for a way to leave Avalon.

And while I had said my goodbyes to Iris, the crowd outside our door had swelled. It looked like half the village would be making the trek. Once I joined the front of the line, the journey to the clearing began. I just prayed my footsteps wouldn’t falter and I would see this night through to whatever end.

Oh Maiden, Mother, Crone! The fanfare spectacle was obscene. This was my demise, not a birthday party nor cause for celebration. But tell them that.

I would never understand the need to celebrate this quarterly event. A witch—me—was being sacrificed. Our combined covens sacrificed one of our own for the good of all four times a year, as we’d done for the past two hundred years. And I thought the sacrifice itself was poppycock, not that the coven mother or council listened to my opinion on the matter.

The event ushered in three hedonistic days of feasting. The coven would never hear from me again, but the celebratory nature surrounding it made my sacrifice okay in their minds.

Which was rubbish. Nothing about this was all right. We should take a stand with the other covens, but the coven mother wouldn’t hear a word of it. This was how it had been done for two hundred years. It was tradition. I’d tell them what they could do with their tradition, but they wouldn’t listen, and all I would do was waste my breath.

Our village looked dilapidated, even with the touches of modernization from the outside world. I never realized how bad it was until I was forced to leave it, knowing I would never return. Around the corner from the bakery on the left was where Josiah kissed me when I was fourteen. A woman never forgot her first kiss. Even if that kiss was sloppy and rushed and left me wondering what all the fuss was about because I found it sadly lacking.

Witches and wizards were passed out at tables erected in the communal square. The fires were lit with witch flame and spelled to burn continuously until tomorrow morning. I knew from experience that once I was delivered to the clearing, the village would break out into an even wilder celebration.

We’re talking sex in the middle of the street. It was the Village of Broomstick’s way of pretending a witch wasn’t being sacrificed tonight.

I put one foot in front of the other on what was most likely my death march. I’d always figured I would live past the age of twenty-two, but I’d been wrong on that account.

The parade through coven territory was cruel. It’s like here, enjoy all the sights you will never see again. Best of luck, but you’ll likely be dead by morning, and there’s a good chance that death will be painful.

Or whatever the hell happened to a witch when they were sacrificed. It was a requirement of the peace treaty between witches and the rest of Avalon: the shifters, vampires, ogres, demons, necromancers, and all the rest of the supernatural beings. The ones that humans didn’t believe existed. Four times a year, on the two equinoxes and two solstices, a witch was offered up as a sacrifice in penance for the war.

And they were never heard from again.

No one knew what happened to them. They simply vanished in the night. I think they were killed. But that’s just me.

Goddess, the ritual was trite. But tell that to the coven mother or the council elders and all hell would break loose.

My heart clenched as we passed by familiar sights. While we might be separate from the outside human world, we have strived to adopt human technology: cell phones, computers, televisions, and even cars. Although some species stay away from cars, mainly because they couldn’t fit. Even a Suburban wasn’t large enough for the giants, orcs, or ogres.

And there were signs of progress everywhere, from the magically powered cell towers to the solar power electric powering most of the village. I’d left my cell with my sister. I didn’t see the point in taking it, much to Iris’s dismay.

There was nothing I could do to make her feel better. I volunteered. Dumbest move ever, to be sure.

With resolve firming my backbone, I ignored the fear beating against my breast. Instead, I strode through the familiar streets with herb gardens in every house window and held my head high. Ignoring the faces of my people, especially Iris, who hadn’t listened and followed the crowd, because my sister’s tears would be my undoing. I did this for her. Volunteered in her stead. The council planned to choose her as the coven offering.

But I couldn’t let Iris suffer. She was softer. Her magic was weak.

And I had a secret. One I’d kept hidden since my thirteenth birthday, when my powers fully manifested. My powers were greater and more powerful than even the coven mother. I was unique in that I didn’t have one elemental specialty. I excelled at them all: earth, air, fire, water, and spirit.

But I’ve kept the bulk of my powers hidden so I would be ignored. So I could study the enemy and figure out a way to end the suffering of all witches. I had my first premonition when my powers manifested. And within that vision, I saw Iris being sacrificed, her body doused in flames.

Like hell I would let my sister burn.

It’s that vision that helped me put one foot in front of the other. A parade of people escorted me past the barrier of our land. We never encroached this close to Avalon City. We traded with nearby tribes, the mermaids, the sirens, the fairies, and even the goblins from time to time, but never ventured near the city.

We had to be careful when we left our village. The terrain was risky with the ogres, jinns, dark witches, necromancers, and various other supernatural creatures who were our sworn enemies and freely roamed Avalon. If any of them spotted a witch, they were executed or, worse, enslaved.

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